There was a lot said by Mets GM Sandy Alderson and COO Jeff Wilpon Tuesday when they discussed with reporters the team's payroll and spending during a private lunch at Citi Field.
Here is Part 1 of my reaction to specific noteworthy quotes, which come by way of articles in the New York Post, Daily News, Newsday and MLB.com. Stay tuned for Part 2 later today...
Who's the boss?
"I go off what the baseball department wants to do and where they are and what they are suggesting," Wilpon said at lunch. "The plan we've had the last couple of years has been a good plan and we've obviously signed off on it as ownership. Salary, we talk about as a target to start the offseason, it usually goes up from there. I expect we're going to be in the same position this year, as well. It might come before the season, it might come during the season. Sandy and his staff have been pretty aggressive to make changes and get the pieces we see we're deficient in midseason."
This is true. Wilpon and Alderson have taken on salary each summer in 2015 and 2016 to add significant and helpful players, including Yoenis Cespedes, Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, and Jay Bruce. At the same time, when the team started sinking in the standings last summer, they traded guys away to save money, including Bruce, Reed, and Neil Walker, among others.
By the way, according to sources with other organizations, teams never reallocate money from one season to another. I don't know why, but they don't. I assume there's a budgetary or fiscal year reasoning for this, or maybe it's something mandated by MLB, but every team does it the same way. So, if you're annoyed at the Mets for not using the roughly $10 million saved in salary last summer on new talent this winter, I'm sorry. This is not unique to Queens.
In regards to this year's Mets, Wilpon's statement is all the more reason why I wish Alderson would abandon trying to acquire a third baseman or second baseman and instead sign a legit, experienced, reliable No. 3 starting pitcher, such as Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn.
It's nearly impossible to trade for pitching in season, but hitters are always available. Alderson got Cespedes and Bruce in July. But, when he needed a starting pitcher in early 2016, he was forced to lean on internal options, such as Tommy Milone, Adam Wilk and other names I'm happy to forget. Assuming the Mets are willing to take on salary the way Wilpon indicates, it will be nice to have the depth of quality already in the rotation in the event of injury knowing a legit hitter or two will be needed and always available in trade.
The will to win...
"We have the same frustration. ... We certainly want to win," Wilpon also said. "There's nobody going out there trying to not win, and not do their best to put us in the absolute best position to win."
Trying is subjective, so I'm not going to argue it. However, I have heard from multiple MLB insiders and agents that feel the overwhelming majority of teams are trying only to 'compete,' as opposed to doing everything in their power to win now. I've heard many different reasons why this might be, some of which have to do with the new CBA putting a greater emphasis on future balance sheets, but it seems to be a recurring theme around the league.
That said, I know first hand how much the Wilpons and Alderson want to win. I believe them when they say it. The thing is, a person's passion and his or her wants and whether it can be attained are not all the same thing. To link the three it takes the right mix of motives, commitment, strategy, execution, and luck. I will never have evidence of which of these qualities the Mets have or don't have, but it's safe to say -- based on their last 15 years of mostly failure and some success -- they are missing something.... and when they do have it, it's fleeting.
Does payroll matter?
Instead of focusing on payroll, "I would rather look at what we can do in terms of wins and losses," Wilpon said. "We set out to make the playoffs and do well, go deep in the playoffs, try to win the World Series, not be the top five in payroll... It's up for discussion if you think that's the only way to do it. You can get there in different ways."
"You've just got to take another look at the facts from a slightly different perspective," Alderson added. "We've already spent more money than most teams this season. We've had one of the rare big, big contracts in the last couple of seasons. No, we're not running out and signing everybody. But, at the same time, in instances, we've stepped up and signed players and made moves in some cases where others haven't. We'll continue to consider those types of things in the future."
Alderson is referring to Cespedes, who was the only free agent to get a nine-figure contract last winter. Similarly, the Mets are taking pride in having spent the fourth-most money on free agents this offseason by committing $55 million to Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, and Adrian Gonzalez. Sandy is right, for now the Mets are fourth. Of course, nine of the league's top 10 free agents are still available, so other teams will spend.... they just haven't yet.
By the way, I don't know anyone demanding the Mets have a top five payroll. I think reasonable fans understand the importance of restraint, and staggering contracts and future commitments to help keep things moving forward. This is what the Cubs, Red Sox, Giants, and Yankees are doing by spacing out promotions, contracts, and being aware of how close they are to the luxury tax threshold now and in future seasons.
However, in addition to building around homegrown talent, they are also signing (or trading for) elite, complementary players. The difference in spending between the Mets and the other big market teams isn't just about the total dollar amount. Instead, the difference is in the quantity and quality of talent (which can be, but doesn't have to be, reflected in the dollar amount).
For instance, instead of trading for Giancarlo Stanton, the Mets got Bruce. Instead of signing Addison Reed, the Mets got Swarzak. Instead of signing Eric Hosmer in his prime, the Mets paid a potentially washed-up Adrian Gonzalez the league minimum. There are legit on-field and financial reasons for each decision, and Alderson could easily prove to be right about each one... time will tell. However, in the meantime, while reasonable fans may be able to understand his approach, I hope he and Wilpon can understand why some fans and media might view their choices as going with the cheaper alternative.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...